Category Archives: Information

More Backgrounds to Hide the Clutter



The lockdown might be easing in your country, but it doesn’t look like working from home is going to go away anytime soon: VPNs, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet are all the new norms for the working day. With all the family at home, flat surfaces are at a premium and the kitchen table is now my office, though the view from my webcam is a less-than-professional untidy pile of cookery books, mismatched placemats and unfinished school homework. Unlike Satya Nadella of Microsoft, I don’t have anyone to dress the background.

Fortunately, there are now loads of fun backgrounds that can be inserted into videoconferencing to hide the clutter. Over the past few days Nintendo, Lego, Studio Ghibli and Star Wars have all dropped suitable images, and don’t forget Disney Pixar has been busy too. Even if you aren’t chatting over the interweb, the images are great desktop backgrounds too.

Click through on the links to see more as there are many additional images on the web sites.

Nintendo

https://www.nintendo.com/wallpapers/

Studio Ghibli

http://www.ghibli.jp/info/013251/

Lego

https://www.lego.com/en-gb/themes/letsbuildtogether/backgrounds

Star Wars

https://starwarsblog.starwars.com/news/star-wars-backgrounds

Have fun and stay safe.


Home servers and media computers, have I become a dinosaur?



Going back about 12 years I built two computers, a media center for the home theater cabinet in the living room and a server to back up all files – that one resided in my home office. 

These days those things seem to be gone from our tech landscape, and I miss them. I miss building them myself and setting up everything. I want to do it again. 

Both of those computers I mentioned are gone now, thigs age. I miss them, but time moves forwards, after all my kids grew up and are hundreds of miles away now. 

For the media center PC I bought a used desktop – I needed something to fit on one of the cabinet shelves. I changed the video card, audio card, added RAM and storage and fed it out to the AV receiver to relay to my TV. 

To start I used Windows Media Center Edition, but wasn’t happy so I tried XBMC (since changed to Kodi), but I didn’t care for that either. I settled on Media Portal. My kids used that system all the time growing up. 

I want to build another, but don’t know that it’s worth it these days. 

Speaking of wanting to build again, a home server. The last one I ran on Free NAS, which is Unix related operating system. I built that from a tower case I had laying around. I added about 1.5 TB of storage to it. 

Setup isn’t difficult, but you need to hook a monitor to the PC to get through it. After that disconnect the monitor, it runs headless. Just enter the URL for the dashboard on another PC and you have control. 

Again, I do want to build another, but is it worth it with the cloud? My files are backed up to OneDrive and Google Drive, do I need a server? Do I need a media center PC? Granted I want both, and I’d like to check out Linux MCE, although I’d probably still end up back on Media Portal. 

So, is either worth my time and money? Let me know what you think. 


Amazon is updating its Fire 8 tablets



It has been a while since Amazon updated its tablets, but that’s about to change. The company sort of snuck this by with no post to the official blog.

They have, however, come up with an update to the Fire 8 tablets. In an announcement sent to us the company says it will be releasing new Fire tablets soon. The next generation of its Fire HD 8 tablet lineup, designed with the entire family in mind: the all-new Fire HD 8, Fire HD 8 Plus, and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition.

“The new Fire HD 8 tablets offer the features that everyone in the family wants – great content, more storage, longer battery life — at a price that is incredibly affordable,” says Kevin Keith, Vice President, Amazon Devices.

So what do you get with the Fire HD 8? 32 GB of storage, up to 12 hours of battery life and fast charging thanks to USB-C.  Amazon also states “the Fire HD 8 Plus packs even more power with 50% more RAM, hassle-free wireless charging, and six months of Kindle Unlimited included.”

You can pre-order any of these now, but you’ll need to wait until June to get one. We’ll have one for review and let you know our opinion, but it sounds enticing. Prices begin at $89.99.


DEF CON and Black Hat are Going Virtual



DEF CON 28 announced their in-person event that was scheduled to take place August 6-9, 2020, has been cancelled. Black Hat also announced that it has cancelled its in-person event, which would have taken place August 1-6, 2020. This is likely not a surprise to most people, considering the number of events that have either cancelled, or postponed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEF CON will be holding a virtual event called DEF CON 28 Safe Mode. It will take place August 7-9 (Friday through Sunday) with 101 orientation Thursday. The entire event will be done remotely. Their FAQ states that they aren’t sure yet if there will be a virtual talk track, or virtual tracks for demo labs, workshops, or training. There will be swag – in the form of t-shirts that say “DEF CON is canceled.”

DEF CON has scheduled DEF CON 29 for August 5-8, 2021. I suppose it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be an issue by then, but there’s no way to know that for certain.

Black Hat says they are “inspired to adapt Black Hat USA in a virtual format that will be available to our entire global community”. Their team is working to deliver the same level of high-quality Briefings, Trainings and Business Hall programs that Black Hat attendees have come to to expect every year.

Those who want to know more should check the Black Hat website, where updates will be posted.

Personally, I think the COVID-19 pandemic is going to force more and more in-person events to turn into virtual ones. Nobody wants to be the company or organization who makes the news because people who attended their event got sick from the virus. There have been many events, conferences, concerts, and local large gatherings that have either been cancelled, postponed, or gone virtual. Things are going to be like this for a while.


Motorola Returns to the High-End with Edge and Edge+



Motorola‘s been firmly established as the go-to provided of mid-range phones with its long running g-series of handsets, but the absence of a top-end phone has been noticeable, despite the appearance of a rebooted Razr. Fortunately, Moto have addressed this with the launch today of two new devices, the Edge and Edge+. Motorola reckon these will be the fastest, loudest and boldest.

This time round, Motorola are sticking to the traditional flat slab format – there are no folding screens here. The Edge+ is the high-end flagship supported by the less powerful Edge, which is still well above the g-series in terms of spec.

Both use the same screen each sporting a 6.7″ 21:9 aspect ratio “Endless Edge Display” with HDR10+ and 90 Hz refresh rate. It’s a 10 bit FHD+ OLED display and as is the fashion, it’s curved at the sides, though it seems the curves have quite a small radius, giving a significant edge to the screen (has the penny dropped?) Motorola are taking advantage of this Edge for actions – swipe down to show notifications, notifications – it’ll glow when a call comes in, and status, showing battery level when charging. There’s demo video here.

Under the hood, they’re both sporting the popular Qualcomm Snapdragons, but the Edge+ gets the faster Snapdragon 865 paired with 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB of storage. This combination of processor, RAM and storage appears to be the definition of high-end for 2020. The Edge takes the Snapdragon 765, with 6 GB RAM in Europe (4 GB USA) and 128 GB of storage, though this can be supplemented up to 1 TB with a memory card.

Unsurprisingly for 2020, both phones are 5G devices, with the Edge+ working with both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies. There’s WiFi 6 in there too.

A 5000 mAh battery will keep the Edge+ phone powered up for two days in normal use, though what constitutes normal will clearly vary. The Edge has a slightly smaller 4500 mAh battery and much like the OnePlus 8 series, the Edge+ has wireless charging (15W) but the Edge doesn’t, surviving with only 18W TurboPower wired charging.

Round the back, it’s a triple camera setup for the Edge+, with a 108 MP main shooter, a 16 MP ultrawide lens with macro vison and an 8 MP telephoto lens. The selfie camera is a 25 MP sensor with a hole-punch in the top left of the display. The Edge has slightly lower specs with a 64 MP main lens, but otherwise the 16 MP ultrawide lens with macro vison and an 8 MP telephoto lens are unchanged.

With dual stereo stereo speakers and precision audio tuned by Waves Audio, both Edge phones have the loudest, most powerful audio on a smartphone, and in news that will delight audiophiles, the phones both retain the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Regrettably, the Edge+ won’t be coming to the UK and it’s a Verizon exclusive in the US to run on their superfast 5G. It’ll be available in the US on 14 May priced at a cool US$999. In Europe, residents of Italy, Scandinavian countries and Serbia will be able to get their hands on the phones.

For the UK, the Edge will go on sale in May 2020 priced at GB£579 from O2, John Lewis, Amazon and Argos.


I’m on Windows 10 and I’m OK with that – for now



OK, for 5 years or so now I’ve been primarily using a Chromebook. I’ve been through three. It’s not that I didn’t have Windows around, the desktop in my office is Windows and the laptop was on my kitchen counter is Windows. I used it while cooking so I could keep an eye on messages, plus I have recipes in Evernote. 

Well, that kitchen laptop is currently my work machine. The keyboard on my Chromebook, an Asus C206, died. Literally no keys work. Yes, I’ve tried to fix it in many ways. I’ve declared it DOA. 

So that laptop that was on my kitchen counter is suddenly my work machine. It took me a day to get used to it. I’m used to an 11 inch and that keyboard size. This is 17 inches and my fingers were getting lost on the keyboard. However, by day 2 I was basically fine, I adjusted. 

I did have to turn off the touchpad, I use an external mouse so it isn’t necessary. Worse, my wrist brushed it while typing and deleted a whole story. In Chrome OS turning it off is as easy as Shift-Search-P. It’s a little harder in Windows, but it isn’t rocket science. 

I also remembered this is a touchscreen when I went to wipe a spot off the screen. I didn’t use this very much so I’d forgot. Things happened when I touched it to wipe the spot off. 

However, I’ve been scouring online and picked out a new Chromebook. So I’ll be heading back to one very soon, just need to place my order and wait for delivery. In the meantime, I’m OK on Windows 10. I know Windows well, it was just a matter of getting my fingers used to the bigger keyboard. 

So what are all of you using these days? Let us know. And stay healthy out there. 


Sunflower Labs Announces World’s First Fully Autonomous Residential Security Drone at CES 2020



Sunflower Labs announced the launch of the Sunflower Home Awareness System – the world’s first fully autonomous residential security drone – at CES 2020. Homeowners will be able to pre-order the Sunflower system with a deposit of $999. The company will deliver the first systems to customers mid-2020.

The Sunflower Home Awareness System pairs always-on motion and vibration sensors with AI processing to provide privacy and peace-of-mind to homeowners while dramatically minimizing false alarms, which a 2018 Urban Institute study found accounts for up to 90 percent of police calls from security systems.

“Advancements in smart home security have been stationary or dependent on video cameras until now,” said Alex Pachikov, co-founder and CEO of Sunflower Labs. “Thanks to the integration of AI and machine learning, homeowners can now have a truly smart security system that, over time, learns and reacts to its surroundings. Sunflower Labs is a leader in the next evolution in smart security.”

The Sunflower Home Awareness System consists of three components: Sunflowers, Bee and Hive:

The Sunflowers: Each Sunflower, disguised as garden lights, houses an array of motion and vibration sensors to constantly monitor activity on the property. Sunflowers are capable of detecting and differentiating people, animals and cars as well as displaying the activity on a map in real-time.

The Bee: A lightweight, fully-autonomous drone that navigates safely to observe activity on your property. The Bee had advanced features, such as automatic deployment, fully autonomous flight, ultrasonic collision- avoidance sensors, high-precision differential GPS and live streaming video.

The Hive: This sleek, weatherproof housing and charging station not only keeps the Bee safe and powered up, it’s also the brains of the entire system with AI data processing and analysis enabled on an embedded system.

If the system senses anything out of the ordinary, it sends an alert to the property owner’s mobile device. In seconds, the owner can choose to launch an autonomous drone flight and view real-time aerial footage of the property via the Sunflower Labs app from anywhere in the world.

The starting price for the system is $9,950. Final pricing may vary based on customization for your property. To learn more about Sunflower Labs Home Awareness System, please visit booth #51306 at Hall G in Eureka Park at Sands Expo during CES 2020.